President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday temporarily blocking people from seven countries from entering the US on visas. The list of targeted countries is Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — all Muslim-majority countries. Trump’s order says that it protects American people from the threat of terrorism.
It doesn’t necessarily do that. But it does show that the new president is serious about putting the Islamophobia that was a central part of his campaign into practice.
That’s because none of the perpetrators of the major US terrorist attacks carried out in the name of Islam in the past 15 years have come from the nations on that list. In fact, the country home to the biggest number of terrorists who have carried out successful attacks inside the US is the US itself.
Trump picked the wrong countries
Set aside the question of whether imposing blanket bans on entire countries’ populations because of the actions of a few evil individuals is justified either morally or on human rights grounds. The bigger problem is that it also isn’t likely to do much to reduce the terrorism threat.
The San Bernardino shooting that killed 14 people was carried out by an American-born US citizen of Pakistani descent and a lawful permanent US resident of Pakistani descent. The Orlando nightclub shooter who murdered 49 people was an American-born US citizen of Afghan descent. The Boston marathon bombers, who identified as ethnic Chechen, came to the US from Kyrgyzstan and grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, before carrying out attacks that left three dead. The militant who killed four Marines during a shooting spree in Tennessee was a Kuwaiti-born US citizen whose parents were Palestinian and Jordanian.
Faisal Shahzad, the attempted Times Square bomber, was Pakistani-American. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the infamous “underwear bomber,” was Nigerian. Richard Reid, whose 2001 attempt to blow up an airplane with explosives hidden in his shoes is the reason we still have to stand barefoot in the TSA line more than 15 years later, was born in the UK to a white English mother and a mixed-race Jamaican immigrant father. Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009, was born in Virginia to Palestinian parents.
And the 9/11 hijackers? Fifteen were from Saudi Arabia, two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Lebanon, and one was Egyptian. Osama bin Laden was a Saudi citizen, and his top deputies — including the current leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were Egyptian.
Literally not a single one of those countries is on Trump’s list, and the ones that do show up repeatedly — especially Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt — aren’t on the list.
Including Iran makes even less sense. The Iranians are most definitely one of the largest state sponsors of terrorism, but they prefer to arm and train Arabs in places like Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and Yemen to do their work for them. The only terrorist attack an Iranian has tried to carry out in the US was a bizarre foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassadoras he dined at an upscale restaurant in Washington, DC, in 2011.
There was one terror attack in Minnesota in 2016 carried out by a 20-year-old Somali immigrant, in which 10 people were injured (but no one died). And a few Somali Americans have in recent years been arrested and prosecuted for attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS, but even then, they wanted to leave the US to commit terror attacks, not carry them out here.
And as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has written, the average likelihood of an American being killed in a terrorist attack in which an immigrant participated in any given year is one in 3.6 million — even including the 9/11 deaths. The average American is more likely to die from their own clothing or a toddler with a gun than an immigrant terrorist. But we’re not banning guns and T-shirts from coming into the country.